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This fifth chapter of the book of Genesis is the beginning of that long series of chapters in human history which are extremely uninteresting. What do we know about Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, and Jared? We know nothing and we care nothing, for they left no memorial behind them that shows their quality or excites our interest. You must have already noticed that this chapter is as true as any chapter in human history, especially as it shows so clearly, what we ourselves have found out, that most people are extremely uninteresting. They are names and nothing more. They are producers and consumers, tenants and taxpayers, and that is all; they are without wit, music, piquancy, enterprise, or keenness of sympathy. They listen to your best anecdotes and say 'm; they hear of Livingstone with a shudder; they suppose there must be a great noise at Niagara. Such people were Seth and Enos, Mahalaleel and Jared; respectable, quiet, plodding; said "good-night" to one another regularly, and remarked briefly upon the weather, and died. Just what many nowadays seem to do. Put down on paper everything that has passed between you and some people, and you will find how very little paper is needed. Now I want to show you that such people are often unjustly estimated, and to remind you that if all stars were of the same size the sky would look very odd, much like a vast chessboard with circles instead of squares. I want to remind you also that really the best part of human history is never written at all. Family life, patient service, quiet endurance, the training of children, the resistance of temptation, these things are never mentioned by the historian. The man who burns down an abbey or a minster is immortalised in history; the poor house-wife who makes a pound go as far as thirty shillings, and pinches herself that she may give her boy a quarter's more schooling, is not known even to have lived. Guy Fawkes is known all over the world, but your honest father, who has given you a good example and a good training, is hardly known six doors away from his own residence. If we remember these things we shall mitigate the contempt with which we are apt to speak of so-called nobodies. Because we admire brilliance we need not despise usefulness. When your little child is ill, he needs kindness more than genius, and it will be of small service to him if his mother is good at epigrams, but bad at wringing out a wet cloth for his burning brow. I am, then, quite willing to admit that Seth and Enos, Mahalaleel and Jared are not one-thousandth part so well known by name as the man in the moon, but I believe they did more real good than that famous character ever attempted.
You should remember, too, that a long flat road may be leading up to a great mountain. There are some very plain and uninteresting miles out of Geneva, but every one of them brings you nearer Mont Blanc. Now from Seth to Jared is a long run through quiet domestic scenery, through daily ploughing, daily milking, and daily gleaning; very quiet, very simple, no noise in the dull farmhouse louder than the clock tick (excuse the modern allusion), and no noise greater than the flap of wings in the high green trees. Oh, so dull that long road from Seth to Jared, but round the corner you find ENOCH, the Mont Blanc of his day! Many a child who never heard the name of Jared knows well the name of Enoch. So you do not know to what high hill your life may be quietly leading up. Even if you yourself are nobody your son may be a man of renown, or his son may be a valiant and mighty man. Three flat miles between Geneva and Chamounix said they would lie there no longer, so many travellers had called them dull and tame, so they went off in a huff, nobody knows where; but Mont Blanc himself bowed his crowned head and remonstrated, owning that but for them he himself would hardly have been known one mile away from home. So the three peevish miles came back again, proud to be a roadway to the monarch of hills. You know Enoch, but you know nothing of Jared; you know Moses well, but how many men amongst you can tell me his father's name?
It would seem that in Enoch we come to the first really good man, of any fame, in Biblical history. I do not except Abel. In fact what we know of Abel is next to nothing. Enoch reaches the point of renown in godliness; he walked with God three hundred years at least; his walk was on the high hills, so high that he simply stepped into the next world without troubling Death to go through his long dark process. "He was not, for God took ------." As if he had walked so near that God opened the window and took him in; and we, too, might pass in as easily if we walked on the same sunny heights. But we are in valleys and pits, and God must needs send death to dig us out and send us to heaven by a longer road. Solemn indeed is the word, "Enoch walked with God"; it means so much; there was a serenity about the man unlike all other quietness; a tender light made his face shine, and in his voice there was a tone, rich, pensive, joyous, altogether wonderful in its combination of humility and triumph. To walk with God is to pray without ceasing; to walk with God is to be absolutely free from care and independent of human judgment; to walk with God is to be in heaven.
After Enoch we come to Methuselah. He, too, is well-known, although for nothing but length of days apparently, yet as a matter of fact he ought to be known for something much more highly distinguished. It is wonderful how oddly and whimsically fame is gained: Methuselah is famed because he was the oldest man, and Samson because he was the strongest man; another is known because he can walk upon a tight rope, and another because he can swim across a channel. If it were in my power to preach the most splendid sermon ever uttered by mortal lips not a newspaper in the world would take the slightest notice of it, but if I put up an umbrella in the pulpit or tore the pulpit Bible in two many a paragraph would report the eccentricity. A splendid sermon would be thought of as interesting only to the few, but an act of folly would be regarded as of universal interest Thus it is (though it may not seem so) that things get into history. Any man living can have a world-wide notoriety tomorrow, can have his name telegraphed throughout the whole range of civilisation, and be the subject of editorial comment throughout Christendom. Shoot any member of the royal family, and see if this be not so. Everybody knows that Methuselah lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years, but nobody knows that but for you two orphan boys would never have had a chance in life. No preacher has a really world-wide name, known in slums and garrets, backwoods, steamboats, thoroughfares, and palaces, who did not in some way get it through "contemptible speech."
Now what is that other thing for which Methuselah ought to be better known than for his great age? Tell me without looking at your Bibles. I give you a moment for recollection. Now tell me; you cannot! I knew you could not! He was the grandfather of Noah; that is his glory, not his mere age! You cannot tell what your boy may be, or his boy: so keep yourself up to the mark in all mental health and moral integrity lest you transmit a plague to posterity. It may be that Nature is only resting in you; presently she will produce a man!
Methuselah was the father of Lamech, and Lamech was the father of Noah. Here we come once more upon the highlands of history and the air grows keener. Though Lamech had many sons and daughters, yet his hope glowed most brightly when he looked upon Noah. Truly "there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." A father of such insight deserved a son of such renown. He did not know the full meaning of his own words, and therein he was like the rest of us; for oftentimes upon our small words God puts meanings which our hearts had never conceived, as out of one grain of corn he brings a return of sixty-fold.
Precisely the same thing we have in this chapter we find in the catalogue of the names of the early disciples of our Lord. We know Peter and James and John. But how little as compared with them do we know of Thomas and Bartholomew and Philip, of Lebbæus, and Simon the Canaanite. Yet they were all members of one company, and servants of the same Lord. We speak of men of renown, forgetting that their renown is principally derived from men who have no renown themselves! Unknown people make other people known. The hills rest upon the plain ground. Besides, there is a bad repute as well as a fair fame: Judas Iscariot is known as widely as the Apostle John! Be not envious of those who have high place and name; could we know them better perhaps we should find that they long for the quietness of home and sigh for release from the noise and strain of popular applause. Happily, too, we should remember that a deed may be immortal, when the mere name of the doer may be lost in uncertainty. Such deeds are mentioned in the Bible; they are told everywhere as imperishable memorials, though the names of the doers have escaped the attention of the busiest watchers.
So closes this apparently uninteresting chapter. Let me say that the hour will be dark in which we pine for things romantic at the expense of a quiet and deep life. Christianity teaches us that no child is to be despised, no work is to be considered mean, and that suffering may have all the honour of service. Woe to us when we can live only on stimulants! When the house is accounted dull, when only sensational books can be endured, when music and drama and painted show are essential to our happiness, life has gone down to a low ebb and death is at the door. Let us do cur quiet work as if we were preparing for kings, and watch attentively at the door, for the next comer may be the Lord himself.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 5". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25